Budget Travel

December 18, 2009

It’s a Crafty Chirstmas

By Meg Hoppe

My best friend and I decided that this year, we would each make our gifts for one another. So, I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on thrifty Christmas gift ideas. I have been scouring the homemade gift websites, craft magazines, and craft stores to find the perfect gift idea for her.

Luckily enough for you, this means that I have an amazing list of thrifty, easy-to-make, and fun gift ideas for the last-minute giver.

A homemade Stupid Sock Creature is a great monster to find under your tree

Stupid Sock Creatures: These little monsters are absolutely a blast to make. In fact, my friends and I had a Stupid Sock Puppet party last year. We sat, laughed, drank some wine, and made these great little creatures. It’s definitely an activity that’s geared towards an older audience as the puppets are much more involved than  sock puppets you might remember from childhood.

Aside from the book with patterns in it, most people have all of the tools needed to make the puppets. Grab some old socks, buttons, thread, a needle, scissors, a ruler and you’re set to go. Most bookstores carry the Stupid Sock Creatures book. These little guys are great gifts to give friends of all ages. They have character and are absolutely adorable. [Price: $10.00-$15.00]

Book: I am in the process of writing and illustrating a story book for a friend. The process can be a rather long one, so if you’re short on time I wouldn’t opt for this gift idea. However, if you have children, time, and are looking for a lasting and meaningful gift, I think making your own book is a great idea. There are so many ways to go about this. One of the simplest is Blurb.com. they give you a program to download that is PC/Mac compatible and all you need to drag and drop, you can see the product before you buy, and then you can order it. Typically you need to allow about 1.5-2 weeks for shipping on your book so plan ahead. Overall though, books that you create yourself whether it’s a story book, photo book, or small book of affirmations make great gifts that last forever. [Price: $15 and up]

Obviously not the words I'd choose, but a Wordle is a great gift for anyone you think deserving of compliments

Wordles: Can you think of a friend or family member who just loves to sit there and compliment themselves? I know that I can. Go to Wordle.net to make them a personalized “word cloud.” Essentially you think of words that remind you of that person, phrases, jokes..anything..and you plug it into this site and it comes up with a creative layout and great typography. This can make a really nice art piece if you get it printed out and framed. Makes a great and thoughtful gift. [Price: $10.00-$15.00-printing & frame]

Cards: Get creative with your Christmas cards folks. Make a collage on the front of your card, take a funny photo, add some ribbons or just plain flair. I’ve always preferred the handmade card to the store bought one, they are just better. It’s always a nice touch to any gift that you give. [Price: $5.00-$10.00]

Recipe Booklet: I make a mean cheesecake. In fact, I’ve been asked on countless occassions for my recipe. This holiday season, get together your favorite recipes [or most asked for] and compile them together in a little recipe booklet. It’s a nice way to pass some lasting gifts onto people that they can make their own in the future. [Price: $15.00-$20.00]

Secret Hollow Book: For that special boy on your list who asked for ninja throwing star, try this great secret stash box instead. It’s an all around great gift. From when he opens it and really thinks you bought him a book to when he realizes what it is and loves it. [Price: $5.00-$10.00]

You can make any photo a marble magnet

Marble Magnets: These simple gifts are great stocking stuffers for people your list making their way to college or their first apartment. The magnets are so easy to do you can easily make enough for everyone on your list in no time. Check out the rest of the Not Martha site for other awesome crafty things that us Non-Marthas can easily accomplish! [Price: $10.00-$11.00]

Check out some of these sites for more great homemade and thrifty gift ideas:
Disney Family Fun
Roxycraft Blog
Tidbit Bakes

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

December 16, 2009

Getting Home for the Holidays the Budget Travel Way

Every year I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

Every year, I try to beat the holiday rush. And every year, I fail.

By Meg Hoppe

When I was in college, my friends talked about this great bus that took them home for $1. Yes, one bonafied US dollar to take a bus from Chicago, IL to Clevland, OH. Completely floored and excited that I could traverse the open Midwest for $1, I did some of my own research on this mythical Megabus.

What I found out was that this awesome service not only could cost as low as a dollar, but they provided free Wi-Fi, it was an express bus, and it was clean. I kept envisioning this tattered old beater sputtering around the Midwest. Imagine my surprise when I got quite the opposite.

For budget travel over the holidays, there is really no other way to go. Now, you’re not gauranteed a ticket for $1 or a spot on the bus. The tickets are bought out quickly, and you only get the steeply discounted ticket if you buy a month or so in advance. However, if today I were to book a one-way ticket on the Megabus, leaving December 21st from Chicago Union Station to Kansas City I would pay between $51.00 and $58.00. Whereas that same ticket with Amtrak would cost between $68.00 and 116.00.

The MegaBus serves states in the Midwest, Notheast, and some of Canada.

The holidays are supposed to be relaxing and full of laughter. You have enough stress at home; everyone has those awkward uncles and socially strange cousins. I really see no point in making traveling to get to them all a hassle. Personally, when my mom guilts me about not coming home to celebrate the small holidays like Columbus Day, I know that ditching Christmas will nix me from the birthday call list for a year or so.

So look for alternate ways home. Flights can be expensive and sometimes you can find a great deal with a great story somewhere else. Car pool with friends, grab seats on the Megabus, or Amtrak your way back. Any way you can, get home for the holidays and enjoy the laughter and jokes that will be told every year after.

Happy Holidays everyone!

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

December 4, 2009

Twitter’s Saving You on Travel

By Meg Hoppe

Changing the old adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to "If don't have anything to say under 140 characters, don't say anything at all."

Welcome to December everyone!

I noticed that I’ve been really letting myself go lately. I’ve stopped budgeting, stopped writing about budgeting and started shopping. I could tell you all it’s been the holidays, the sweet fall leaves, or the over abundance of turkey in my life as of late. Whatever the reason, holidays can be killer on everyone’s wallets. So, in my attempt to re-join the land of the fiscally responsible, Black Friday deals have their sway on even the strongest, I stumbled across this article discussing the benefits of Twitter on travel.

Most friends rolled their eyes when I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. At first I used it to challenge my writing. If I can write a concise and witty 140 update, I’ve chosen the right profession. However, now this social networking giant has become a tool that everyone should explore.

Aside from taking the place of a news wire for a journalist, Twitter is a great place to find deals, savings, and freebies. I’ve been on for almost a year and have gotten free CDs and invites to events. I did some digging and found tons, and I mean tons of tweets advertising cheaper prices for or giveaways for almost everything you can imagine.

And apparently traveling is no exception to this. According to an MSNBC article, last summer some lucky followers were able to get $9 JetBlue tickets from JFK to Nantucket and $444 round–trips on United from the West Coast to Australia. You might ask yourself how they were able to get them. Twitter folks, it’s all about Twitter. By following JetBlue and United a few lucky travelers were able to check out steep sales first.

I really think it’s time for you to get off your anti-Twitter rampage and step on over to the dark side. We have cookies and cheaper plane tickets, so why are you waiting? Get your own 140 character soap box and join the movement.

Some great people to follow for the best travel deals:

*Meg Hoppe is a freelance writer and marketing professional from Chicago. Visit her other blogs here and here and follow her on Twitter @CallMeHoppe.

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